Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Royals. I'm Not Lovin' It.

In Kansas City, as the Royals' season winds down (as it has been since May), the talk around town is how the franchise needs success not to hold onto current fans, but to insure that the younger generations grow up in baseball culture. I was born a few months after the Royals won the World Series - I have never seen good hometown baseball, and neither has anyone of my generation. I'm still a fan, as I was born into it, but many people my age just don't care. It's why every season in every sport matters so much. You need to be constantly hooking the younger fans.

It's why McDonald's advertises. Those commercials aren't for you and me, we know where to go for a burger, they're there so every kid in America will know McDonald's. You don't pay billions in advertising dollars unless it has an effect.

If the Yankees are the McDonald's of the baseball world, then the Royals are Jack in the Box. George Brett retired in 1993, the same year JINB had their E. coli epidemic. I was seven years old at the time. Since then, there has been no reason to care about the Royals, and JINB has been known for nothing other than killing people. However, in the past few years, the restaurant chain has made a comeback, equipped with a new mascot and a new look. And it's working.

Americans under twenty don't know about the E. coli breakout, they only know the fake Jack in the Box CEO with the Barry Bonds-sized head they see on television. The chain could have done the same thing in 1994, but more than likely it wouldn't have worked. The time was ripe for change, as it is now with the Royals. They too need a face lift, but of course, replacing Slugger and spending money on ads won't do the trick. Slugger has a big enough head as it is anyways.

But they are running out of time. The reason JITB has able to resurface was because not only did the young audience not remember the controversy, but they did remember the brand. They've always been around, so it wasn't a new name. The only difference was the appearance of success. If the Royals strike now, they can keep the younger fans who at least remember George Brett, or even Mike Sweeney. But if they wait, they will only be left with a future of kids who don't trust the organization and don't expect anything but failure. And those kids will not become fans.

2010 might be the most important season of the Royals franchise. Fail now, and future success may not even matter. At the very least, they can become the Hardees of the MLB; not very good for you, but addicting and it keeps you coming back for more. And at this point, I'm fine with that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want, Part Two

When LeBron James left the court after the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, refusing to shake hands or even saying a word to the champion Orlando Magic, the first thing that came to mind was: this reminds me of Michael Jordan. In June, I wrote, "I think it's clear that if Michael Jordan was playing in today's game, his legendary competitiveness would be chalked up to thuggery and selfishness." Well, in the aftermath of Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech, I have to say, I was right.

ESPN's Rick Reilly, the posterboy of a dying style of sportswriting that once made the Sports Illustrated writer an icon, called Jordan's speech "tactless, egotistical and unbecoming." These also happen to be three of the qualities that made Michael Jordan the undisputed king of basketball. As Reilly points out in his own article, former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach has said about Jordan, "This guy is a killer. He's a cold-blooded assassin. It's not enough for him to beat you. He wants you dead."

That's what it takes sometimes to be the greatest ever. Jordan never quit trying to win. He still doesn't want to quit, which is why he seemed so upset during his induction; going into the Hall signifies the end, and for the best competitor the game has ever known, there is no end.

But nobody wants to hear it. Jordan's speech was disgusting and disrespectful. The irony, of course, is that when Jordan was a player, the most common criticism slung his way was that he was too corporate, too fake. People wanted the real Jordan. Well, be careful for what you wish for. You were given to real MJ, and you rebelled against it.

Or did you? You see, this shouldn't have caught Mr. Reilly off guard. In an SI column in June of 1993, Reilly wrote, "Whatever searing obsession is inside Jordan driving him to be the most dauntless basketball player on earth, does not suddenly leak out of his Nikes when he leaves the court." Seems as if Reilly has gotten old, as he is doing the same thing with Tiger Woods.

Don't get mad at Jordan, Woods or James for not being able to shut off the valve of competitiveness that got them where they are today. The best of the best are wired differently. It's a trait that is applauded when they are athletes but shunned in real life, as Reilly has properly demonstrated. So don't be surprised when after asking year after year for athletes to come out of their shell, you find that their real self is less than socially acceptable. It usually is for people with losing mentalities.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want, Part One

Sports fans are a fickle bunch. Tony LaRussa gets railed for swapping pitchers too much, but Grady Little was run out of Boston for leaving his pitcher in too long. Fans boo when the home team punts on fourth-and-one, but become Monday Morning Quarterbacks when their team goes for it and fails. Even when changed is called upon for decades, once the real change happens, they panic like rednecks when Obama was elected.

For as long as I can remember, fans have berated announcers for their lack of knowledge and insight. Don't get me wrong, most arguments against announcers are based in fact. John Madden couldn't tell you anything about a play that a thirteen year old couldn't point out. Same goes with Tim McCarver, Rich Gannon, and well, just about every color guy. The only purpose they serve is to explain plays to people who know nothing about the game, which is something around 3% of the viewing audience. They are, in fact, worthless.

ESPN's season opening Monday Night Football double header provided fans with a different audio experience. The network's Mike & Mike, teamed with Steve Young, gave us a new angle. No, it wasn't Dennis Miller new, but it wasn't the same old "analysis" we usually get. These guys knew and worked with each other before the pairing, and it showed. They bantered, they talked over each other. The trio sounded like any three guys watching a football game. And people hated them for it.

Immediately after the game, I tuned to two different national sports radio shows to hear the same thing: Mike & Mike & Steve sucked. The next day at the water cooler (or more aptly in the 21st century, the ashtray outside), the talk was the same; the broadcast was unprofessional, unpolished and unlistenable. Message boards around the net resonated the same. But what is it that fans want? Do they even know?

Fact is, we have been conditioned to the polished, unintruding ways of Madden and McCarver. As much as people bash them, they at the same time can;t stand anything but. Dennis Miller was chased out like Frankenstein's monster because his humor wasn't mindless and fake like the kind you see on pregame telecasts. Young and Golic's banter was deemed annoying because it wasn't scripted like Buck and McCarver's. And Greenberg's play-by-play is denounced as boring because he doesn't have an on-air orgasm after every first down like Gus Johnson.

Already the abuse is being directed towards the regular MNF crew and newbie Jon Gruden. My favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, even repeatedly Tweeted during tonight's game about the awful announcing. Well, what do we want? If we can't stand more of the same, maybe we should not be so quick to overreact to a new formula. You can't bitch about everything all the time. We need a little Steve Young and Dennis Miller. Or if not, we need to stop whining about the status quo that we refuse to change.
J Fish Sports © 2008. Design by :Yanku Templates Sponsored by: Tutorial87 Commentcute